Writer exits comfort zone to bare his soles and more

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman March 15, 2016 07:40
Sketch by Columbia College student Andrea Broglio Quraishi

Sketch by Columbia College student Andrea Broglio Quraishi

“Hey Greg, how do I get to the Willow Building?”

I’ve buttonholed Greg Elam, Columbia College’s security chief and a former county sheriff’s investigator I had worked with during my years as a newspaper reporter covering law enforcement.

Elam gives me directions to Willow, an art building on a far corner of campus. Then he shoots me a look: “So what’s your business there?” he asks.

I scrounge for an answer acceptable to a hard-nosed cop, but in seconds I give up and stammer out the truth: “I’m a nude model for the Figure Drawing class.”

“Jeez, Bateman,” Elam says, eyes in full roll. “Well, I guess you were always one to let it all hang out.”

Fifteen minutes later, I’m letting it all hang out in front of instructor Li Ching Accurso’s class. I’m buck naked, posing on a platform surrounded by more than a dozen busily sketching students.

But my mind’s on Elam, who’ll no doubt tell his buddies about our encounter. Who’ll then tell their buddies, and word will spread: “Bateman’s stripping for an art class. And the guy’s got to be what, 70 years old?”

A weird dream, right? Wrong: There I really am, one knee bent, the other stretched out. I’m reclined, leaning on an elbow and trying to look like this is my typical NBA playoff-watching position at home.

But after 15 minutes my joints are stiff. I stretch an arm and shake a wrist. I straighten a leg, then bend it back.

I look down: My privates are still public.

By now you may be wondering why I would do this.

It’s not for the money. The pay is $12.09 an hour, a good buck or two less than I earned as a reporter.

For a while, when the wage was only $8 an hour, the class had a tip jar. But the college administration, perhaps fearing that more congenial, better-looking models were making more in tips, axed it as politically incorrect.

It isn’t that the job is easy to get. To qualify, I filled out nearly 30 pages of forms and signed an oath to uphold the Constitution.

I read instructions on what to do in case of on-the-job injuries, the mere idea of which had me shuddering. Then I was fingerprinted (cost: $70).

It was like I was going undercover for the government, although the opposite was true.

“It’s crazy,” agrees Li, who’s been teaching art at Columbia for more than 20 years. “It’s like applying to be president of the college. It makes it hard for us to get models.”

It isn’t because I’m one of “the beautiful people.” At nearly 70, I’m sagging in some places and bulging in others. “We welcome all ages and body types,” consoles Li. “Each model brings a new challenge.”

Finally, it’s not because the job is easy. “How was I?”

I ask a group of students during a class break.

“You moved!” answers one, drawing nods from the others. “You’d stretch your arm, then put it back in a different place. I had to start over.”

I promise to move less, and conclude that newspaper reporting, typically done fully clothed, is far easier.

Later I talk to two veteran models, both of whom – at least for this piece – choose to go by aliases.

“My ex, my kids and my grandkids think I’m crazy, but I don’t give a rip,” says Jim, a 74-year-old retired prison guard who’s been modeling for eight years. “I’m extremely fit and healthy. Doing this is an incentive to stay that way.”

How does he remain still through a 20-minute pose?

“I totally zone out,” Jim says. “I repeat a mantra, look outside and count the leaves on the trees. It’s a passion, an exercise in self-discipline.”

At least it was until one of his bosses, a female assistant warden, showed up in class with a sketchpad. “That set me back for a while,” laughs Jim.

But it’s not as bad as having your father show up.

“That’s what happened to me,” says JP, a 30-something Sonora-area student who’s been taking it all off at the college for 13 years. “Not only that, but when he gets home from class, Dad calls his friends to come over and see the sketches. ‘Just look at my little girl,’ he says.”

By that time JP had overcome the lifelong case of stage fright that led her to try modeling in the first place. Now, she says, “I’ve got pretty big balls for someone without any.”

And dealing with those long poses? “I imagine myself as a muse, a mermaid or a figure out of Greek mythology,” JP says. “I’d like to think I can cause inspiration.”

But I have no zones to escape to, no patience for counting leaves. As for muses and myths, forget it. Which brings me back to a question I posed 20 paragraphs ago: Why would I do such a thing?

Because I can. As a journalist, I have a self-issued license to go beyond boundaries. “It’s for a story” has been my mantra for decades. It’s as if those four words are a passport to the far side. They justify behavior otherwise deemed weird, unusual or, by some family members, even crazy.

That this takes me beyond my comfort zone – particularly at an age where the siren song of routine becomes harder to resist – is a good thing. Plus, for posing for five hours the college paid me almost enough to cover those fingerprints.

chris-for-columnYet when Li asks me to return to her class for more modeling, I pause. Yes, she’s been unfailingly considerate and helpful. Her students have been open and friendly. Not only that, their charcoal drawings of me are bold, deft, subtle and, well, accurate.

But I’ve gone beyond those particular boundaries and lived to write about it. Now it’s time for a new adventure – one I can undertake in a full-length parka.

Have nothing to hide? Li Ching Accurso welcomes models of all ages, shapes and sizes for the fall semester, which begins Sept. 6. Call her at (209) 588-5378.

Copyright © 2016 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman March 15, 2016 07:40
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